Balarama at Pringle of Scotland
Milk Made: These photos have an ethereal quality to them—almost as if the models have walked up the stairs and into heaven. Was that the kind of story you were trying to tell?
Balarama Heller: Like with most of my work, I find myself in an environment and I begin to evaluate it. I often have no way of knowing what it will be before I get there. In this case, I was stuck in the pit with about 30 other photographers. I usually try to find a different vantage point, but the security required me to stay there. Again, I am confronted with an intense restriction and I have to come up with a motif that is going to tell a different story than the 30 other photographers. And I have about seven minutes to do this. That is when the instinct kicks in and intellect recedes. Since I have the luxury of not having to prioritize showing the clothes, I can focus on the atmosphere and the way the space and available light informs the models. The space had a heavenly old-world vibe and the models were backlit by natural white light. We could have been in a castle on a cloud. In this way, perhaps a more subtle thread of narrative arises and gives the viewer space to interpret on their own.
MM: Expanding on that, how do you go about deciding on lighting and mood for your fashion editorials? For example, this gallery is so different from your Public School one that you did for us—which is quite dark—though the Public School show itself wasn’t actually that dark.
BH: I’m charged with the job of representing a show that has many spectators and many photographers, but representing it in a way that is unexpected. I try to key into a fantasy version of the show, one without spectators—just these individuals wearing the clothes inhabiting the Public School universe. Of course, I have no idea what that actually is, but I just imagine it based off the attitude of the show and the music. Maybe it ends up being more of what my vision of that particular world is and it has nothing to do with what the designer intended. I have a strong appreciation for sci-fi/fantasy and the shows gives me a chance to indulge that in a way that street photography doesn’t.
MM: For a runway show, what kind of shots are you focused on getting?
BH: A shot that is aligned with essence of the designer to some degree, but more importantly, a shot that is extremely distilled and stripped down. No spectators, just these alien, larger than life beings in space.
MM: What was the coolest moment from the Pringle show?
BH: When I realized that despite being stuck in the pit with all the other photographers, I was still going to make images I liked.